The Great Batman Debate : The Bryant Park Project A debate over the merits of Batman and other superhero flicks.
NPR logo

The Great Batman Debate

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
The Great Batman Debate

The Great Batman Debate

Every Friday our friend Daniel Holloway, Metro movie critic, joins us to break down the upcoming weekend's new films. Last Friday, as you might expect, a lot of attention was paid to Ironman. And while discussing where that film ranks in the superhero movie pantheon, Daniel happened to mention that he doesn't list Batman in his top 10. That utterance caused Ian Chillag and me to jump from our cubicles and go running into the studio to protest. Here's a 1:36 clip of what happened:

The Great Batman Debate

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

As promised, Daniel and I have taken this the blog. Below are the e-mails we exchanged over the weekend, as we continued the discussion on friendlier terms. Take a read, then tell us what you think. And tell us what superhero flicks make your top 10.

I was disappointed in my performance today during the raid by the Batmaniac Society. Really, if I'm going to say something like "Batman isn't one of the 10 best superhero movies ever," I should at least have the decency to be able to say why, right? So here's why:

1. Because X2, Superman, Spider-Man, The Incredibles, X-Men, Superman 2, Iron Man, Superman Returns, Batman Begins and Spider-Man 2 were all better.
2. Because it marks the beginning of Nicholson's "Jack being Jack" period, during which almost every part he's had could have been played just as well by a drunk person doing a Jack Nicholson impression.

Read the rest of Daniel's e-mail, and my response, after the jump...

3. Because the point of being Batman isn't that he has a jet and a car. The point of being Batman is that he's a ninja or a samurai or something. Nolan gets that in "Begins." Yeah, there's a car, but better than the tech is the fact that there are fight scenes that are worth watching. In Burton's movie, not so much.
4. Because Michael Keaton is terrible. Bruce Wayne isn't exactly the most charismatic character in the world, but Keaton plays him with all the verve of a school bus driver.
5. Because Billy D. Williams isn't in it enough.

Clearly, my logic is ironclad. I invite you to admit defeat, preferably on air next week.

I agree that X2 is the best, that one's amazing. To tell you the truth I haven't seen every single one on your list. I'm not saying Batman has to be #1, but it has to be in the top 10. You asked me if I've seen it as an adult, but I'd ask you if you remember what it was like when you saw it for the first time. That movie was revolutionary when it came out. No previous superhero movie that I had seen was so dark in its look and feel. And while I agree Michael Keaton isn't amazing, he does work well with that darkness, and he does inject a certain ambiguity, an idea that he might not want to be or like being Batman. And even though Batman prevails in the end, that film gives you the idea that good might not always triumph over evil. That film was a stark departure from the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks.

I'm not saying that film invented those concepts, but it was the first big superhero film I ever saw that employed them. And that Tim Burton-style darkness, especially the visual darkness, has been ripped off a bunch of times in subsequent superhero movies.

I also, by the way, think Batman Returns is nearly as good. Danny DeVito is classic.

As for Jack, I'd argue that this is like one film before he jumped the shark. Sure it's Jack being Jack to a point, but that's the role. I mean, it's the Joker. The role is too perfect for him. How else could he have played it? Maybe it's just the best casting decision in the history of cinema.

I will grant you that it was an innovation at the time, but like the comics it emulates, what seemed at the time like something new now looks rather dated. Innovative art isn't always timeless (or good) art.

I'll say this for Keaton: I doubt I'll ever see anyone play Bruce Wayne in a way that's really impressive. So long as people keep interpreting Batman as a brooding sociopath, he's going to come off a bit boring. As for Jack -- well, I'll probably have more to say on that after we see what Ledger does with the character.

The best scene in Batman Returns is when DeVito bites the nose of the guy who played the annoying neighbor on "The Hogan Family."

OK, BPP blog readers, I'll let Daniel have the last word. Where do you stand on where Batman stands? And what other flicks comprise your top ten superhero movies?